Springtime migration

Travel

After the rain comes sun, after the sun comes rain again. While this may be universally true, we’ve been waiting for the rain for over 9 months in Andalusia. Contrary to the other European locations, the percentage of rainy days accounts for 10% tops throughout the year.

This has profound effect on the ecosystem, including summer wild fires and decreasing bird population, especially the migratory species, looking for the rest after the long way to or from Africa through the Gibraltar Strait. The month of March though brought immense amount of water, as well as Sahara sandstorms twice, turning the Andalusian landscape into an orange-ish, muddy moonscape.

I went on a weekend trip to my beloved Conil de la Frontera on the Cadiz coast, also known as Costa de la Luz. The heavy rain was gone by then, leaving vast greenfield areas and welcoming the migratory bird species from Africa which came here for the nesting period, alongside the all-year-round inhabitants.

Conil is situated in between La Janda and seaside lagoons which are a great foraging area for egrets, stilts and other wading birds, previously mentioned.

I took some time to hide and train my amateur photographic eye to witness the common egrets cohabiting these areas with glossy ibis, and even more domestic species like pigeons or sparrows.

Alongside the coastal line I could also spot a curious wagtail observing the agile shore swallows and different gull and shy plover species. As the current changed every couple of hours, I could see their intensifying fishing attempts or giving up and resting on the shore.

I couldn’t miss visiting the glossy ibis colony in the Playa de Castilobo area. I was happy to see the colony growing in number, gracefully flying around the fields and sharing the foraging area with stilts and common egrets.

Around this time of the year, as I walked nearby the Atlantic beach meadow, the cattle was enjoying the company of the cattle egret, smaller in size and gregarious in its nature. I’m fascinated by the cohabitation and comensalism of these two species and since then, anytime I see a bull, a cow or a horse, I look out for the cattle egret around!

Coming back to the ibis colony, I could also see how well they share their territory with crows and rock pigeons, picturing some incredible everyday moments of living on the rocky tower block!

I am very glad that my bird-eye view becomes sharper each time I look around, being able to recognise and take a shot of a resting kestrel, comparing to my previous year’s photos.

Last but not least, among the springtime migration, there was a purple egret – a stunning, colourful bird alongside with terns and gulls, preparing for the nesting season and quite territorial. I won’t forget the bird attack I suffered on Iceland, not knowing about the close nesting location of the Arctic tern.

So, happy springtime birding and remember about the safety of the birds, yourself and distance to the nesting areas. Don’t joke with the tern!

Happy New Bird

Personal, Travel

December was a month full of highlights: despite 2021 being another year in pandemic, we made it through and made the most out of it, focusing on discovering the local gems of Andalucia and learning more about the cultural and biodiversity richness of place we live in.

This month we had a few visitors, including friends and family, which was great but equally intense, so we took a few days in between to be alone, in the brand new place for us: Jerez de la Frontera, and Trebujena marshlands. We set the direction to a picturesque road passing through Teba, Campillos, Olvera and Algodonales where we could spot lagoons perfect for flamingos as well as the mountain ranges known for the griffon vultures presence.

In 2,5 hours of slow drive through the sunny landscape of Andalucía we reached our destination. Even before, I heard great things about Jerez for being a true capital for sherry wine and lively tavernas locally called trabancos. A very first bird metaphor was used for tapas on our very first visit: as each tapa arrives with un gorrion (common sparrow), a shot of a locally distilled sherry. The city itself is best to experience through walking, and stopping by randomly at those places, or entering one of the wine bodegas today often converted into great restaurants, like La Carbona. 

Jerez is famous for its Royal School of Equestrian Arts as well as the Cathedral which was very nicely decorated a weekend before the Christmas. After spending a day in Jerez and sobering well after those tasty ‘sparrows’, we changed the scenery to join our first Andalucia Bird Society field meeting in Bonanza.

Bonanza is a part of an equally interesting sherry town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (we haven’t discovered yet), located at the mouth of Guadalquivir river entering the Atlantic Ocean, and opposite to the Doñana National Park. What strike at the very beginning are the huge ‘icebergs’ of salt, Salinas de Santa Teresa, abundant in that area and strategic material since the ancient times. Very close to it, we stopped by Laguna del Tarelo where the very first sightings were confirmed of the wintering and residing species of wading birds.

Thanks to our guide of the day, Juan Martin Bermudez we could see a daytime sleep of the Night Herons (who are foraging at night and have some interesting courtship behaviour of gifting a female with a green branch), as well as the appearance of a very rare, endangered species of the Marbled Teal (currently <55K species worldwide).

White-headed Ducks (coloured as the name mentions), Coot, Little Grebe, Grey Herons among other wading birds were seen on the water, while the Osprey and Red Kite appeared higher up the sky. We were very grateful to the fellow members for pointing us to the interesting sightings thanks to their scopes, which we hadn’t had at this point.

Passing through the vast marshlands of Trebujena, we made the next stop at the Esteros de Guadalquivir which offered us a great hide and sightings of Greater Flamingos, Black Redstart, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, variety of Plovers, Pied Avocet, White Storks, Slender-billed Gulls and Caspian Tern. Up the river, we also so large vessels heading all the way to Seville, and, at a closer sight, we managed to see a Velvet and Common Scoter, occasionally passing through Andalucia during wintertime.

This great birding experience, combined with a jolly pre-Christmas atmosphere among the ABS members made us think that Santa should really get us a scope this year to continue our fantastic field discoveries. Upon our arrival from this trip, we wrote a special letter and few days later, probably thanks to the express postal services of the local Collared Doves, we got it!

Our first local birding trip got us to Guadalhorce on a New Year’s Day to celebrate the 2022 arrival, hoping for the better to this world of humans and animalia, and gave us a delightful day of observing both Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Grey Herons hunting for the moles, gregarious Stilts, and the best of all: another time a Velvet Scoter!

To top it up, one of the fellow birders pointed us to the unforgettable scene of the Osprey-gourmand eating up his fish on the outpost. Apparently this particular Osprey returns since 16 years already to Malaga for the wintering season from Germany. Learning about it, it felt very emotional to be a witness of all the birds, and more what’s happening around us all the time. What a way to start a year and wish that everyone finds their own Happy New Bird! Believe me, witnessing the nature’s beauty and collecting sightings is much more precious than any NFT collection out there.

Cold Brew and other gems from the Little Silver Cup

Personal, Travel

 

 

January and July mark mid-year celebrations for me and my partner. Since years we keep on surprising each other with different locations or venues we visit to celebrate. This year’s July surprise was visiting Cadiz, or Little Silver Cup, given the city’s shape, light and location between the majestic Atlantic Ocean and Bahia de Cadiz.

When we arrived to the city, we literally felt as if we fell into the hot, humid broth to describe the temperature best, so for the rest of the day we stayed at the water side, not able to wander around too long around the historic city center. We enjoyed a peaceful walk as there were not too many fellow visitors despite the high season, so we managed to inhale the relaxed city vibe, its charming parks and its magnificent Cathedral. When breaking free, we don’t like forcing on ourselves too rigid plans or timelines – the magic happens when you accidentally discover something unusual. This entry is about the gems hidden beyond the first sight.

And so it happened. The next day, awaiting the boat to take us to the fascinating town Puerto Santa Maria, and wanting to cope with the humid weather, we ordered a refreshing Cold Brew at the Top Coffee Shop, ran by some very interesting baristas. We even bought the book by one of them, Yolanda Mariscal with a promising, Almodovaresque title Pide Un Deseo in order to practice our Spanish, and experience a good lesbian novel intrigue. Both challenges unlocked! 

When we arrived to Puerto Santa Maria, we were contrasted with a never-ending yacht marina (Cadiz Bay is a popular cross-Atlantic departure/arrival spot) and derelict port buildings. Passing around the quiet and rather rough-looking streets we discovered some of the quirkiest design stores and sherry wine cellars for the connoisseurs. Eventually, our ultimate hidden gem was a restaurant Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken, situated between the tidal swamps and train station.

A 17th century mill, operating thanks to the powerful Atlantic Ocean tides, was restored and converted into the Andalucian experimental restaurant and a completely out of space experience. Before entering the venue and tasting the main menu, one has to go through the rite of passage, welcomed by the glass of fino and hostia made of sea urchins and sea honey, plankton tortilla and sun-dried octopus nigiri.

I would like to keep the rest of the experience a secret to be discovered only by the curious. Enough mentioning that what you see is not often what you eat. In a Petri dish there may be a dessert. A tardigrade-resembling creature may be a razor clam. While we ate, the tide changed from ebbs to flows, and the migratory birds of the Gibraltar Strait were enjoying their crustacean menu as well. Quoting my partner, there is nothing more (to say): Non Plus Ultra.

Tarifa treasures

Travel

September is one of my favourite months in Spain. Not only loud children come back to school and create less havoc everywhere, but also temperatures drop to a perfect 28-30 Celcius degrees, making it a perfect timing for staying at the beach, biking and exploring the nearby treasures. In this blog post I want to write a little bit about my escape to the Southernmost tip of Spain at the Gibraltar Strait: Tarifa.

Even though the summer has been marked heavily by COVID-19 and the second wave, I try to resume my usual activities: hiking, staying in the nature and exploring the nearby landscapes of Andalucia. Actually, I have enjoyed less tourists and crowds in the region, making it more accessible and enjoyable for the local residents.

I spent just a few days in Tarifa, staying in a small village of Pozuelo, about 3,5 kms walking next to a natural reservoir, formed by the Ocean tides and creeks coming from the nearby hills. I chose it because of the remote feeling, listening mostly to the migrating birds and the wind, famous among the surfers from all over the place.

Tarifa is famous for its impecably white, sand beaches and watersports. Playa de los Lances is one of the broadest and most spectacular ones, from my humble beachtesting perspective.

There are still some bunker remains and a lot of former battery stations all over Tarifa – a literal entry point to the Iberian Peninsula. Nowadays the coast of Cadiz is also one of the entry for the migrants from all the North Africa, and Spain being one of the countries welcoming the biggest number of refugees, after all.

War-torn, Moorish and postcolonial past is present almost at almost every step of the little town of Tarifa. Also, the town blossoms with a lot of green squares and hidden gardens, thanks to the horticultural thought of the Moorish predecessors.

This summer has been strange and the town seemed half-empty, half-crowded at the same time, as only some of the restaurants and shops opened during pandemic, creating a congestion of visitors. This is why I haven’t spent too much time in the town itself, and preferred observing the life of birds, bugs and kites outside of Tarifa. Each year the town even hosts a birdwatching series of events, welcoming thousands of birds migrating between the European and African continent.

I found peace and rest after a very intense period of work at home this year, not to mentioned confinement, walking miles every day and enjoying being outside. The local cuisine consisting of mostly 0 km food, such as tuna and its parts in various combinations and plethora of fish was delicious and I can’t wait to return to this paradise sometime soon.